The 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers head into their bye week with a 2-4 record, but are coming off an impressive road win on the West Coast. Since the bye week is often a great time to reflect on what the Steelers are doing well and where they need to improve, this is exactly what we’re going to do. In the first of this week’s three installments of Crunching the Numbers, we’ll take at some of the Pittsburgh Steelers numbers on the defensive side of the ball for the 2019 season. Each statistic is broken down into a “do” or “don’t.” The “do’s” are areas where the Steelers need to keep up the good work, while the “don’ts” are areas where they need to improve.
The number of turnovers this defense has created in 2019 must start off the statistics discussion. With 15 takeaways through six games, the Steelers are currently tied for second place only one behind the New England Patriots (16). The last time the Steelers had this many takeaways at this point of the season was in 2010 when they forced 17 turnovers in the first six weeks on their way to 35 takeaways on the season.
The Steelers have surrendered 136 first downs in the first six games of the season. This total has them tied for 28th in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers have surrendered 43 first downs on rushing attempts, 79 on passing attempts, and 14 came because of penalty. The Steelers had similar numbers through 6 weeks in 2018 when they surrendered 139 first downs.
Another obvious statistic which stands out for the 2019 defense is the number of sacks they have against opposing quarterbacks. The Steelers have taken down the quarterback for a sack 20 times, which is third in the NFL only behind the Carolina Panthers (27) and New England Patriots (25). What makes the total of 20 interesting is the fact the Steelers have only one sack in three of their six games. The Steelers also had 20 sacks through six games in 2017 and had 22 in 2018, both seasons in which the Steelers recorded over 50 sacks on the season.
Unfortunately, one area in which the Steelers can improve is their opponents ability to convert third downs. The Steelers have given up 35 third-down conversions on 79 attempts which is a 44.3% conversion rate. The Steelers are currently ranked 24th in the NFL in third down conversion rate which is their worst through the first six games since 2012 (47.2%).
The Steelers currently rank seventh in the NFL in the number of rushing yards per attempt given up. With opponent rushing 175 times through six games for 661 yards, the Steelers give up an average of 3.78 yards per carry. Although this stat may seem not as impressive as things such as turnovers and sacks, it should also be noted that the Steelers took on the top rated rushing team in the NFL in Week 5 and held the Ravens to under 150 yards on the ground, breaking their 11-game regular season streak which was third all-time in NFL history since the 1970 merger.
The Steelers are tied in the NFL with the New England Patriots for the most games with a positive turnover margin. In five of the Steelers six games in 2019, they’ve had more takeaways by their defense than turnovers by their offense. The reason this stat goes down as a positive for the defense is because the offense has had at least one turnover in every game in 2019 Of course, the only game the Steelers do not have a positive turnover margin is against the New England Patriots the opening week when the Steelers failed to get a takeaway while turning over the ball once.
For comparison sake, the Steelers only had three games in 2018 in which they had a positive turnover margin, and the last time the Steelers had a positive turnover margin in five of the first six games was 1987.
So these are some of the numbers outlining the Steelers defense through the first six weeks of 2019. Can the Steelers keep up their ability to force turnovers and sack the quarterback? Will the defense improve on allowing teams to move the chains, particularly on third down? Please leave your answers in the comments below!